After a year of closures, many zoos and aquariums across the country have started to reopen with limited occupancy and strictly enforced CDC COVID-19 protocols. That’s worth celebrating, as for many parents, there’s still nothing easier, safer, or more delightful than helping your kids check in on all their favorite sharks, cheetahs, hippos, penguins, pandas, naked mole-rats, leaf-cutter ants, and baby otters. But if you’re not able to make it in person just yet, thanks to modern tech you can check in on your favorite critters via educational live-streaming video feeds. The best zoo and aquarium live cams capture glimpses of wildlife stars — there are now dozens of free live streams and webcams — offer educational context, with presentations, daily feedings, related crafts, and other kid-engaging activities often built in. And kids aside, who among doesn’t need to be briefly mesmerized by a luminous Portuguese man o’ war?
Even if you’re lucky enough to live down the road from one of these great research and conservation-minded institutions, you can’t go every day. So check out one of the dozens of live zoo cameras the internet has to offer, bookmark your favorites, and check back in often. Baby otters grow up fast.
The Best Aquarium Live Streams for Kids
The world-renowned Aquarium of the Pacific, based in Long Beach, Calif., has seven different live streams to enjoy. The best of the bunch are the two separate penguin live cams. They show footage of the same exhibit: one view above water, the other below. There’s also a shark lagoon webcam with several different types of sharks, including sand tiger sharks and a blacktip reef shark. And less we forget, there are also a wonderful jellyfish exhibit, and the tropical reef live cam at the Blue Corner Reef off the corner of Palau is worth more than a few minutes. It’s considered one of the most beautiful coral reefs in the world.
The New York Aquarium has two live cams: one of which features their shark tank, a darkly-lit tank that has assorted fish as well as the ocean’s most dangerous predator, and their “spineless” cam, which features the invertebrates of the ocean like the humble and brilliant octopus, the Japanese spider crab, and lagoon jellies. Check it out.
California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium offers a stunning array of aquatic life. The nonprofit, seated at the edge of the Pacific ocean near the center of its coastline, features a three-story tall kelp forest, a one-million-gallon Open Sea exhibit, otter habitats, and tons of touch pools. They offer ten different free live streams, including an aviary cam positioned on the aquarium’s ocean-view deck which captures ocean birds; a coral reef cam, which offers glimpses of tropical fish gliding through the multi-colored habitat; a kelp forest cam, which features, among other things, leopard sharks and sardines; an otter cam, which looks out on Abbi and the other famous sea otters at the museum; and a shark cam, which shows off the zoo’s finned inhabitants. Best of all might be the jellyfish cam, which provides a rare look at pods of the invertebrates bouncing around in their tanks.
The Oregon Coast is famously rugged and uniquely pristine — every inch of the beach in the state is public land and protected by law, with abundantly diverse aquatic wildlife in the Pacific waters right off the coast. The Oregon Coast Aquarium, in Newport, Ore., boasts otter, shark, and sea bird cams.
The Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, Ga., is the largest aquarium in the country and offers a series of live streams that feature all different types of fish and animals. The aquarium’s “Ocean Voyager” webcam, which shows off the inhabitants of the aquarium’s 6.3 million-gallon tank, features four whale sharks, four manta rays, and a green sea turtle. The aquarium also offers a tropical diver Indo-Pacific reef live stream with a daily 10:30 a.m. dive show and 3 p.m. feeding, as well as a sea otter exhibit that features 11 a.m. training sessions. The African penguins alone are worth tuning in.
The Seattle Aquarium has two live streams: one of their harbor seals, and another of their sea otters. In addition, the aquarium’s YouTube channel offers an abundance of footage of everything from the various aquarium octopi as well as sea otter training, and some adorable videos of their rescued sea otter pup named Rialto.
The Best Zoo Livestreams
If land animals are more your thing, check out the abundance of zoo live streams, featuring friendly pandas, newborn apes, snuggling koalas, and more.
The Smithsonian National Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in the United States. In a normal year, entrance to the zoo is completely free, and luckily, the zoo live cams are the same. Kids can watch lions, elephants, and baby cheetahs — or watch the daily wholesome soap opera of the naked mole-rat cam, whose complex social lives make for riveting TV.
The Bronx Zoo, one of the largest zoos in the United States, has a number of live cams to delight kids and adults. They have a sea lion pool (where they do daily feedings at 11 a.m. EDT and 3 p.m. EDT), the aquatic birdhouse, where ducks and penguins frolic, and a ‘Madagascar’ camera that shows the animals native to the remote island. For the birders out there, its aquatic birds are fed at 12:30 p.m. EDT and 3:30 p.m. EDT via live cam.
The Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary near Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, has launched 15 different live stream cameras that are on 24/7 of their resident koalas. Viewers can watch the “Young Koala Tracker”; the “Koala Forest,” where most of the female koalas live; the “Koala Train,” where the koalas cuddle up and snuggle together; and one camera that is devoted to where they sleep, which is where they are most of the time. (Did you know? Koalas sleep 18 to 20 hours a day.) But the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary doesn’t just feature everyone’s favorite marsupial: they also have free live streams of bearded dragons, birds, dingoes, and the perentie, the fourth largest monitor lizard in the world.
The San Diego Zoo is one of the best, and most famous, zoos in the world — and the live streams they feature show it. A baboon cam, a penguin cam, and a pre-recorded panda cam are all strong entertainment contenders. (The pandas, Bai Yun and Xiao Liwu, were recently repatriated to their homeland of China, but archival footage exists on the site.) There are also individual cams for its a polar bears, apes (with a new ape baby), koalas, giraffes, owls, elephants, tigers, and condors, in which viewers can see the animals pal around in their habitats. It’s seriously cute stuff.
Zoo Atlanta (based in Atlanta, Georgia) only features one live cam — the Panda Cam — but it’s an absolute delight. The giant pandas, who don’t hibernate, are recorded year-long at any time of day, but in the warmer months, viewers can expect them to be in their climate-controlled, room-like habitats since they prefer cooler weather. Both the indoor and outdoor rooms are featured on the panda cam.
The Houston Zoo has over 6,000 animals from 900 different species, and while they’ve only recently re-opened after a lengthy closure due to the pandemic, they host a bunch of cool animals on their live cams — the “Rhino Yard,” “Chimp Window,” and “Elephant Yard” cams, as well as the “Gorilla Habitat” and giraffe cam. All are very cool zoo stuff. But perhaps the coolest cam at the Houston Zoo is the leafcutter ant cam, for all of the bug-lovers out there, which shows the powerful ant species at work, snipping leaves and carting them away.
Ohio’s Cincinnati Zoo has been offering “Home Safaris” via Facebook, bringing millions of us deeper into the daily lives of the animals who live there. Each safari features a different animal, fascinating facts, and an animal-inspired craft. Plan a different safari every weekend, with visits to hippos, red pandas, cheetahs, wallabies, and many others.